18 April 2023 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of a Meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee held on 18 April 2023 at 6.30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall.
Cllrs B Austin, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Town Mayor), A Dite (Deputy Town Mayor), D Dodds (Deputy Chairman), M Dyer (Chairman), A Gilbert, K Gregory, A Midwinter, H Richards
M Sturdy, Town Clerk
C Pinnells, Community Services Manager
K Slater, Corporate Services Manager & Responsible Financial Officer (RFO)
A Oughton, Operations Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence received from Cllr Fickling (personal). Cllr Bretherton was absent without apology.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest or dispensations.
3 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Committee.
There were no questions put to the Committee.
The Minutes of the Committee Meeting held on 14 February 2023 were confirmed as a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.
5 Financial Update
Cllr Champken-Woods entered the meeting during this item.
Members received the budget summary and balance sheet up to 28 February 2023 and noted the financial updates.
The Corporate Services Manager & RFO explained that the 132% overspend in Community Activities was due to the agreed forward-funding of S106 for Public Art and overspend for the Queen’s Jubilee Beacon Lighting event.
6 Financial Overspends
The financial overspends as listed on the agenda were noted.
The Corporate Services Manager & RFO provided further context for the overspends which totalled just over £20,000. It was explained that circa £14,000 of this was not actually an overspend, due to being recouped through using reserves or sponsorship, and were not unexpected in many cases such as utilities, where the Council had put additional funding aside in preparation or agreed the overspend. Other overspends reflected new contracts or additional training requirements for Officers and Members. The accounts appeared in a healthy position at year end, with monies allocated to set aside for the Community Youth Centre project to offset forward-funding S106.
It was clarified that monies were available for the further expected overspends on utilities and fuel.
Members thanked Officers for managing costs and minimising overspends.
7 Investment Update
The summary of the investment performance was noted.
Following discussions at the previous meeting, the Corporate Services Manager & RFO explained that the income return and capital growth return are separate, as the latter is cash and may be used differently to income, which explains why the same market value & return will generate a different income at different times. Members suggested that a more detailed summary with explanatory notes from Rathbones may be beneficial.
Members requested a report on Rathbones’ charges.
Loan repayments are paid into the Capital Receipts Fund as per the recently agreed Loans Policy.
8 Internal Audit
Members received the Internal Audit Second Interim Update Report 2022-23 following the audit visit on 22 February 2023.
There being no matters for consideration, Members congratulated Officers for another clean audit.
9 Council Policies
a) Flag Flying Policy
The Flag Flying Policy had been updated to reflect current Government practice and Royal titles. Where a flag is to be flown on a weekend, the policy clarifies that the flag will be raised on the Friday and lowered on the Monday. A new King Charles III Cypher Flag had been purchased and would be flown during the month of May for the coronation. The length of time that flags are flown for is at the discretion of the Town Council. The default flag is the town flag.
The St George’s Flag is flown over the weekend of St George’s Day, and always flown at St Mary’s Church.
Discussion focused on the Rainbow Flag. The committee were fully supportive of flying this flag however were divided on for how long during June (Pride month). The Town Council had previously committed to flying the Rainbow flag during the month of June as one of its equality objectives. Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, which the Town Council must follow as a public body. The Government provides a list of flags which can be flown outside public buildings, of which the Rainbow flag is one.
A proposal was made to fly the flag throughout the month of June, as it felt important that the Town Council is inclusive and represents the town’s community. Flying the Rainbow Flag for pride month does not mean the Town Council cares less for other parts of the community.
Some Members felt that the Rainbow Flag should only be flown proportionally to other flags which represents other sectors of the community, such as the Armed Forces flag. There was also concern and uncertainty about how inclusivity is defined and by whom.
Following this discussion, amendments were made to the original proposal, to fly the Pride Flag for a week and the Armed Forces flag for a week, as some Members felt this was more proportionate and did not favour one group over another.
- The Rainbow Flag be flown for a week in June, and the Armed Forces flag be flown for a week at the end of June.
b) Member / Officer Protocol
Officers had identified updates to the Member / Officer Protocol, so it was agreed to defer this to the Annual Meeting so it could be reviewed accordingly.
10 Town Hall Wi-Fi Provision
The report was noted.
The Wi-Fi in the council offices continues to be problematic and not fit for purpose. It had recently been discovered that the Town Council is sharing its wi-fi with 20 other buildings in the High Street. In 2021, BT installed fast-fibre broadband which currently provides 90mb/s, but the Town Council requires 100mb/s. Over recent months, new cabling has been installed in Thame and BT have agreed to upgrade the service to 500mb/s which will include a site survey, new contract, and full cabling, with the costs outlined in the report and will covered through existing budget lines in the first year. 5 connection lines will be provided exclusively for the Town Council as backups, and BT have committed to a 4-hour callout.
11 Laptops for Councillors
The report was noted. In order to run a smoother operation, particularly to enable both Officers and Councillors to utilise Microsoft 365, it is recommended that laptops be purchased for all Councillors in time for the new administration. The laptop specification is provided in the report. The budget for the new laptops was agreed by the Budget Working Group and within the 2023/24 precept. The committee were asked to ratify this decision.
Was the procurement policy followed, as there had been no tenders and the brand had been chosen? The brand had been identified as the most suitable following the procurement exercise for the Officer laptops a few years ago. Standardising IT equipment within an organisation provides efficiencies, cost savings, and compatibility benefits.
A question was raised with regards to whether 256GB of internal storage and touchscreen were necessary? The laptops were competitively priced and there was little difference in price for less storage and no touchscreen.
- The decision to purchase up to 16 laptops as soon as possible from the capital rolling fund and agreed budget (2023-24) be ratified.
12 Solar Panels – Thame Guide Headquarters
The report was noted. The Thame Guiding group will cover half of the installation costs and are seeking grant funding to cover the remainder. As the Town Council owns the Guide HQ building, it was suggested that all installation costs be covered before installation.
- The Council approve Thame Guiding to proceed with the project to install solar panels on the left side of the roof of Thame Guide Headquarters, subject to Thame Guiding securing full funding prior to installation.
13 Fees and Charges
The report was noted. Officers had researched local hire rates. The Town Hall is one of the only venues to offer a community rate in Thame. For comparison, the Bowls Club offer £15/hr. It was suggested that the rate be increased by £2 to £16/hr, with the commercial rate kept the same. Bookings are now above pre-covid levels, and Officers were praised for increasing the Town Council’s income.
Concern was raised about raising costs given the current economic climate. How much did community rate bookings contribute? This data was not available to hand but could be provided after the meeting.
Officers recommended reducing the charge for hiring the football pitches from £25 to £20 per game, to bring the charge in line with hiring an event on Town Council land policy.
- The charge for hiring the Upper Chamber remains at £27.00 (commercial) per hour and a small increase of £2.00 from £14.00 to £16.00 (non-commercial) per hour.
- The charge for hiring SRRG football pitch is reduced to £20.00 per game (inclusive of VAT).
- As per the “Holding an Event on Thame Town Council Land Policy” a fee of £20 (plus VAT) per hour is charged subject to a decision from the Town Clerk or Community, Leisure, and Recreation Committee.
14 Reports from Representatives on External Organisations
The reports from the nominated representatives were noted.
Red Kite Family Centre:-
Cllr Emery provided Members with a verbal update. Following the sudden withdrawal of their main sponsor, the centre was struggling financially and, with increasing demand, and facing closure by July. Thanks were given to the Town Council for all their support and publicity.
Post-meeting note: The rest of the update given by Cllr Emery was confidential, and the Red Kite Family Centre have advised they will prepare a report to Full Council and make a public announcement in due course.
Thame Youth Projects:-
In the absence of a written report, Cllr Cowell provided a verbal update. Youth Café attendance continued to grow as does the Youth Zone, for ages 14+, which runs fortnightly from the Coffee House. The new Youth Worker started two weeks ago and will be introduced to the council shortly. They bring a wealth of experience in safeguarding and working with young people. Thame Youth Projects will be looking for trustees, particularly with IT skills. They recently took 24 young people to Waterstock Golf Club for an enjoyable day out.
Members commented that some organisation representatives often had nothing to report which was disappointing. In some cases, there was nothing to report, particularly given that the last committee meeting was only 2 months ago. However, it was noted that at the Annual Meeting next month, all External Organisations would be reviewed, and representatives appointed.
15 War Memorial Additional Names
The report was noted, and the project was progressing well.
It was questioned whether there were any women who should be commemorated on the Thame War Memorial, as at the time their names weren’t put on memorials? Thame Remembers had conducted research and found no evidence of any serving women from Thame who have lost their lives in conflict.
It was noted that female spies had been trained at Thame Park, and Thame Museum had more information on this, but they would not meet the criteria for inclusion on the War Memorial, as approved by Council. The criteria (available on request), in brief, require that it is for uniformed personnel serving in the British or Commonwealth armed forces who had been born or lived in Thame, or who had made a significant contribution to Thame life, and who had died in conflict. The Special Operations Executive was, by definition, a non-uniformed secret organisation and Thame Park was a secret training establishment so would have had little or no interaction with Thame life.
However, it may be appropriate that a separate memorial, perhaps within Thame Park itself, be considered to commemorate their valuable contribution to the war effort.
16 Grant Award Scheme
It was noted the applications for Town Council’s annual grant award scheme opened on 9 March 2023, and will close on 9 May 2023. Eligible organisations and projects are encouraged to apply.
17 Town Hall Closure
It was that the Town Hall will be closed on the afternoons of Friday 16 June 2023 and Friday 14 July 2023.
18 Compliments and Complaints
Members noted the report for October 2022 to March 2023.
The Community Services Manager asked the committee whether a different format for reporting social media comments, such as engagement and follower statistics, would be preferred, or whether to continue as is until the communication’s strategy has been developed. Currently it is time intensive to collate the social media comments, and the official way to make compliments and complaints is via email or in person, not social media. In addition to statistics, common themes could be reported to ensure a balance of views. It was agreed that Officers should provide a sample report for the committee to consider.
19 Free Use / De Minimis Delegated Authority
Members noted the report of the Free Use (and equivalent cost) granted by the Town Clerk through Free Use / De Minimis delegated authority for the current and upcoming financial years.
The meeting concluded at 7:54pm
Chairman, 25 July 2023